continued from part 2, HERE.
I did my due diligence, believe me. Spinal surgery isn't something you jump into just because one or two specialists tell you to. The first neurosurgeon I met with impressed me. Kind, patient, thorough and smart he instilled confidence as he explained my options. Despite having done my homework on the two surgical approaches, I learned quite a bit from him. He did a series of neuro tests and we discovered that my walking had been altered, a fact I hadn't noticed. It's strange how we compensate without realizing it. He asked me to do the field sobriety test that police use, walking heel to toe in a straight line. I flunked as I could not take one step without falling over. I admit, it jarred me.
The pain in my neck, shoulders, and left arm had continued to increase daily and my right arm and hand is now symptomatic. Although I hated to do it, I had finally accepted that I could no longer work and went on medical leave. Though I had tried a long list of medications, I had declined pain killers any stronger than Ibuprofen, wine, and muscle relaxers. Something about failing the walking test and the potential permanence of my condition led me to accept the neurosurgeon's suggestion that I try a nerve pain killer as well as a narcotic pain medication. The good doctor ordered additional tests including a C-spine CT and X-rays. In the meantime I continued to seek additional opinions.
Research kept pointing me towards Jefferson University. Still, I met with another neurosurgeon that my neurologist had recommended. He was very pleasant but was ruled out almost immediately as his medical group was not authorized to perform the type of surgery I was hoping for. In most cases like mine, the bulging disc is removed and replaced with a bone graft either taken from the patient's own body, typically the hip, or from a cadaver donor. The vertebrae above and below are fused with a plate and screws. This limits mobility of the neck. Also, just as with my congenital partial fusion of C5/C6, the added stress on the bones above and below the fusion will begin to degenerate. Additional surgeries are likely. The other option and the one I prefer is an artificial disc replacement. Just as with the fusion surgery, the bulging disc is removed. Then a metal plate is secured to the bones above and below with a plastic ball in the middle creating a ball bearing. Mobility is much greater and the stress on the bones above and below is not a concern.
This doctor agreed that artificial disc replacement was a good alternative and he began to think out loud of colleagues he could refer me to. The first place he mentioned was Jeff (Jefferson). I told him I was aware of Dr. Heller at Jefferson and his response sealed the deal. "I couldn't be in better hands," he said. He couldn't be happier that I would be with Josh, his good friend. Dr. Joshua Heller was the first opinion I had sought. Happy with the ringing endorsement, I was relieved to have made my decision. Next was the CT and X-rays.
I've taken my meds as instructed, though they don't really make a dent in the pain. The zapping electric shock in my hands has been unrelenting. I constantly drop things due to weakness. Simple tasks like washing my hands or buttoning buttons are difficult and increase the sensation. The meds have, however delivered their promise of weight gain as a side effect. I feel like a hose has been plugged into my belly button as I've blown up at an alarming rate. My face is as round as a cherry tomato. My eating hasn't changed and I actually crave salad, but I am not able to move around much. I've also developed twitches that occur while awake or asleep. I get woken often by them and also by my jaw opening and slamming shut, sometimes catching my tongue to the point of biting into it. This is likely caused by the spinal cord damage, almost like I'm getting erroneous signals from a fried wire. So, I've done what anyone would do in my position. I've watched all of the episodes of The Good Wife (prior to this season) and I'm on the last season of Breaking Bad on Netflix.
Mark is my Prince Charming. He's everything to everyone in our little family, mostly without complaint though he has episodes of what he calls "Rage Cleaning." I am grateful that he is on sabbatical this semester and able to take over for our family. He not only shops, cooks, cleans, and chauffeurs the family, but he also spent most of Thanksgiving decorating for Christmas. The outside of the house can be seen for miles and it is fabulous.
At my second appointment with my neurosurgeon, he ordered more X-rays as he needed additional views with my neck in different positions to gauge stability, so I headed back to radiology. While waiting for him to decide if I would qualify for disc replacement versus fusion, I watched a few videos of the surgery on youtube. Mark can't stand the site of a needle, so he thinks I've completely lost it. I used to be squeamish, but having three kids and being a fan of horror films and zombie shows has desensitized me. At one point I caught myself thinking of tandoori BBQ chicken while watching a disc being removed and it was my own thought that grossed me out.
My mentor, friend, and boss Diane picked me up at 7:15 am and took me to my pre-op appointment on Tuesday so that Mark could get the kids off to school. At noon my friend Lauren brought me lunch and stayed with me through the many questions, poking, and proding. These are the kind of Wonder Women that I draw to me. I spent all day getting my blood pressure checked (3 times), giving my health history, list of allergies and medications, an EKG, a blood draw, and conversation with an anesthesiologist. I even had a chest X-ray and I swear in the dark I emit a soft glow.
Mark's mom will be here for two weeks, thank the lord, though getting here has been it's own challenge due to fog. Yesterday she had flight delays and cancellations, arriving in Chicago last night only to have her last leg cancelled. She's in the air as I type. She too is Wonder Woman.
My health insurance approved the surgery with a modest co-pay and the good doctor approved the artificial replacement. There is a chance that once he gets a closer look, he may decide fusion is necessary, but he is prepared for it. I have been carrying the CDs of the MRI, CT, X-rays and reports in my purse along with my health care declaration and living will for weeks, just in case. My bag is packed with a change of clothes and toiletries. I haven't eaten since midnight when I wolfed down a salad and a Little Debbie Christmas tree cake (don't judge) and I stopped drinking at 8:30 this morning. I'm ready to go.
Recently we have been given hope that I will, in time regain what I have lost. There is no guarantee but the dismal prognosis I had been originally given isn't a guarantee either. It makes sense I suppose to prepare patients for the possibility of permanent damage but I don't accept that. My surgery is at 12:30pm Eastern time today, Thursday, December 5th. It is expected to take 3-4 hours and I will stay for one or 2 nights. Mark will be joined at Jeff by one of our pastors and his mom and will provide updates through my ReJenerationS twitter account and on fb. In addition to prayers and good thoughts, I have another request. I'd like to keep Mark busy and laughing all day. Either on this post in comments or on fb, please post jokes, funny stories, and videos. I want him bombarded and distracted while I'm getting fixed up.
I'm not particularly scared. I just want this over. I've got friends and family all over the globe lifting me up. I'm in great hands at Jeff. I've got the good Lord on my side and plenty of work left to do on this earth. So, me and my brand new Wonder Woman uniform (pajama pants, t-shirt and robe) are headed out the door. After all nothing else would do.